On People Who Are “Surprised” When I Speak English Well


Do not define me.

To you, the color of my skin is wrong because it does not correlate directly with my ability to speak fluent English. What you hear is not what you have been taught by your social environment, and so you still ask me where I’m from, exclaiming that “[my] English is so good!” Well, it is my mother tongue. 

Do not tell me that when you first saw my Chinese name after my English one, you were worried that you wouldn’t be able to understand me. Do not sigh with relief when I tell you that I was born in this country. Do not then ask how I can be so pale when my parents are from South East Asia. Realize that there is more to me than the color of my skin and the components that make up my full name; that there is more to understanding each other than being able to speak the same language with the same level of proficiency. I am proud of my race and my culture and the identity they help make up – do not assume that I should be ashamed because I am not like you.

Do not tell me that I am brave for breaking the stereotype. I say that I’m studying for an English degree and your eyes widen as a “really?” slips out because, evidently, lying about my degree subject is a hilarious joke. Do you see me laughing? I say that Maths and/or Economics and/or Business and Management were never on the agenda, and you gasp and say that I must have broken my parents’ hearts. I say no and silence falls. But even if I did do any one of those degrees – so what? 

Talk to me about postmodernism and Edward Said, about Paradise Lost and ecocriticism. Between running your finger around the rim of your glass and tapping your foot to the background music, even though you know you’re constantly offbeat, ask me what my favorite book is and what films I like. Try to gauge if we have anything in common apart from our location and the fact that we both said “yes.” Crack a joke or two. Do not look at me as if there is something innately wrong with me for not living up to your narrow-minded expectations. 

“You’re quiet,” you say, as if you’re expecting me to apologize for the things I have not done, for the replies I have not given you.

I’m not sorry.

There is so much that I want to tell you, but you will never let me. You will never believe me.